“Wealth is now defined, at least in part, by the ability to be offline whenever you want” Fernando Gros.
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Blog // Thoughts
February 22, 2007

Ethics And Blogging

A deep frustration with the typical theological college Ethics curriculum was one of the initial inspirations for my PhD research. Part of the problem was that those kinds of courses focus almost exclusively on the big life and death ethical issues – war, euthanasia, abortion, homosexuality and so on. What is often missing though is […]

A deep frustration with the typical theological college Ethics curriculum was one of the initial inspirations for my PhD research. Part of the problem was that those kinds of courses focus almost exclusively on the big life and death ethical issues – war, euthanasia, abortion, homosexuality and so on.

What is often missing though is some ethical consideration of the more everyday moral issues of personal and social interaction – honesty, loyalty, commitment, hard work, trust and so on. I’m no fan of Stanley Hauerwas, but I think he is totally right to say that the one thing ministers are not told often enough in their training is to “…tell the truth.”

Part of my fascination with blogging comes from a personal belief (or delusion) that it is a good practice for anyone in “full-time” ministry (or for any Christian thinker). Perhaps we are approaching a time when pastors will have to explain why they don’t blog, rather than why they do?

But, if we are going to do this thing as part of a transformative theological practice, then we surely need to consider its ethical implications. What i mean here has less to do with rules and prescriptions than it has to considering how well our blogging practice fits with our other practical and spiritual commitments.

Consider the issue of citing references, or linkage. One of the conventions of blogging is that if a fellow blogger draws your attention to a piece, say in a magazine or newspaper (or another blog or YouTube), you reference both the destination piece and the blogger who found it for you.

This mirrors the standard academic practices of referencing secondary material. A failure to do so is a form of plagiarism, or to put it another way, a form of lying.

This is more than just a failure of character, it is also potentially a failure as an educator/pastor/mentor. Citing your sources models your approach to research, to breadth of reading and filtering information. Linkage models discernment.

Finally, a failure to link well breaks the blogosphere. We are playing with a virtual ecclesiology here as links build networks and potentially relationships. It’s the blogosphere’s equivalent of word of mouth.

These kinds of ethical considerations also apply to comments. In part, this is why I think it is helpful for pastors (and theological educators) to blog – it puts us in contact with difference; with a world of opinion and ideas. Responding to comments helps one deal with other points of view, with the times that people misunderstand what you are saying and even with your own errors in thought and judgement.

[tags] Linkage, Comments, Ethics [/tags]

Responses
Toni 13 years ago

“Perhaps we are approaching a time when pastors will have to explain why they don‚Äôt blog, rather than why they do?”

TBH I would be surprised if we see many pastors blogging really. To blog well takes time (as you know) and energy plus a technical bent that doesn’t come naturally to many that are pastorally oriented. Blogging is kind of interesting and a good way to receive stimulation, but is also an intellectual and geeky activity that most people pastoring are unlikely to have much time for.

Now I may be wrong, but I think that online conversation is a passing fad: a little conceit of the present generation that they are somehow ennobled by use of the internet. I don’t think it will disappear in a couple of years, but like steam powered cars or the electric boats on Windermere in the 1920s, in 50 years time I suspect people will ask the greybeards “grampa – did you REALLY type all those words out for people to just come and read”.

Why blog? Why indeed. Guess I’m a geek and as a man of this period, I enjoy it without caring about tomorrow. While it’s been good for me I wouldn’t want to force it on anyone.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

That’s an interesting perspective Toni – for a long time I thought blogging would be the new CB radio. I suspect blogging has a much greater traction, but maybe not for everyone.

I agree that if pastors look at blogging as an add-on, one more thing to *add* to their commitments, then not many more will take it on.

But, pastors are people of words, especially people of publically accountable words. Most are already generating the content for blogging, through sermons, newsletters, reports and so on. So, maybe the problem is harnassing those words, streaming them. Maybe for some the answer is group blogs, church blogs, podcasts, whatever.

Also, I think we have a new generation enterting the minsistry and training with a more intergrated and perhaps geeky approach to communication.

Paul 13 years ago

Christian blogging ethics 1.01, thank you Fernando. I find that linking to a blogger is a way of building on an idea/thought without having to repeat the backstory but may be of interest to the reader as much it was to me.

Blogging is one medium where people can interact and it seems to me to be basic politeness if you have someone who bothers to leave a comment that you would want at the very least to thank that person. Otherwise why bother enabling the comment function?

Not that you have to thank me, lol. I’m sure there must be some blogging ethics for commentators – not to expect thanks but to contribute rather than just read/consume in silence and at least show appreciation of the author… 🙂

cynthia 13 years ago

Fernando, this is a great post. Thank you for highlighting some of the ethics of blogging.

Toni, have to disagree with you about blogging. Blogger, in particular, takes no technical bent. Also, pastors should easily have access to someone who can get them started – unless they’re doing everything alone without drawing on their members who are under 30. Blogging may represent a fad, but make no mistake about the trend. Our worlds will revolve around online conversations over the next decade and social collections & networks will grow dramatically in the influence they exert upon traditional social & political institutions.

Paul, it totally makes sense that if someone takes the time to comment, you should respond with a thanks. This is something I’m particularly trying to improve upon. My biggest mistake is that a provocative or insightful comment causes me pause and while I’m collecting an answer in my mind, other things distract me and I often forget to tie up loose ends and respond in print. I’m really trying to work on that. Additionally, a comment may sometimes get left that just says it all and in fact it deserves to be the last thing said. (I’m also regularly behind on emails, if I’m not mistaken, I owe you one. I’ll get on that today.)

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Paul – the way we reply to comments is just as important as whether we reply at all. I’ve been frustrated with myself that too many of my replies have been of the “thank you for your comment” type. I guess on one level I do want to thank anyone who even takes the time to read this blog, let alone comment.

However, I think it is important to move past that and actually have some sort of conversation.

For me, I don’t really worry much if my visit numbers or technorati ranking go down, or flucuate. But, I do fret if the blog doesn’t attract comments.

As for blogs that don’t reply to comments, or allow them, or brush off commentors – I find that they seldom hold my attention for long.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Cynthia I agree both that blogging doesn’t really require a specific technical nous and that it is part of a trend that is here to stay. I’ve said before that blogs as public, daily journals may well receed. However, blogs as personal publishing, on different kinds of timelines is a trend that is here to stay.

As for timeframe for replying to comments – I try to keep within 48 hours, but I do go over that. On one level it would be good to bring comments closer in time, making them more like a forum.

However, I want to move away from trite and quick responses. I’ve been disillusioned recently with a few blogs I used to admire, because the responses to comments are getting shorter and more offhand.

Paul 13 years ago

It is something that is vexing my mind fernando, how do i encourage more conversations – it is the one thing that i get the most out from blogging, interacting with other people’s thoughts – i’ve recently started to try and ask Qs where i can of the people who comment to see if we can generate a converation rather than just a comment/response mentality but have you got any other ideas/thoughts on this?

Paul 13 years ago

thanks cynthia, i agree with you – people who take time to respond are always worth thanking 🙂

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Paul, I wish I could give an answer to that. I’ve noted before that often the posts I most expect (or hope) will receive comment don’t get much and others that are maybe less important to me, attract a lot of attention. Like you, I’m trying to take a more expansive approach to comments, but that’s still at the experimental stage really.

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